Across The Universe

Across The Universe


Reviewed by: Chris

Rarely have I fallen in love with a picture so deeply in the first half, yet been so utterly bored by the second.

It is a musical based entirely on songs by the Beatles. As it has a nominal story of its own, it would be unfair to call it an extended music video. Just be prepared for a story predicated on the songs, not vice versa.

Copy picture

The first thing you notice is the songs are sung well. Exceedingly well. They even – dare I say – quite often improve on the originals. It reminds me of Eva Cassidy singing a classic such as Somewhere Over The Rainbow. She found depths of beauty of her own and discovered the song in a whole new way. This is possible in Across The Universe because, instead of using actors who can sing a bit (a particular bugbear of mine), they use singers who can act a bit. Pretty, young things with voices that could sweep to victory in any X-Factor sing-off.

For anyone who loved the originals of I Want To Hold Your Hand and Hold Me Tight, this is the best homage imaginable. Simple boy-meets-girl kicks off a standard three-part plot and your emotions can soar to the fullness of the Lennon-McCartney lyrics.

One of the best ever films to make use of popular songs in this way was Singin' In The Rain. In those days, there was a ready stable of stars who could sing, dance and act – and usually all three at once. The film used a fairly topical story (the advent of sound in movies) and barrel-loads of charisma and humour. It is a formula that was easier for studios of old than ones of today. But Across The Universe falls down not because it doesn’t have a good story but because of two major errors in plot development. Dock worker Jude travels to America to look for his estranged dad. A few subplots later he falls for Lucy. Lucy’s brother is drafted into the (Vietnam) war and this is where it all starts to go horribly wrong.

The love songs are very well suited to the attractive leads, making no great demands on their acting skills. But launch the film into extended tragedy and their inexperience sadly shows. The second mistake is the choice of plot focus. We are in the Summer of Love – the Sixties era of Flower Power, psychedelic drugs, and disillusionment with society (especially with the war). The message was to turn on, tune in, drop out. But to make a musical that focuses on the horrors of war is a very major undertaking, and well beyond the otherwise exemplary grasp of these filmmakers. They miss almost any reference to drugs and Jude and his friends seem to sidestep the philosophy completely. Which also seems a bit untrue to the Beatles. If they had to miss drugs for the censors, a few references to meditation, for instance, would not have gone amiss. Consequently, when Jude triumphs with All You Need Is Love, it sounds hollow and unconvincing.

The film is worth watching for the superb interpretation of most of the songs, especially in the first half. Surprisingly, the two well-known celebrities perform worst in terms of singing. They should have been omitted from the trailer. Bono is a great performer, but cannot compete vocally with more classically trained voices. Likewise Eddie Izzard might be a great comedian but his rendering of Mr Kite is at odds with the original tone of the song and his singing is variety show shouting. Producers would have done well to study the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour for this section.

Across The Universe starts well but ends up sanitised and unsatisfying. Excellent symbolism – for instance, soldiers tramping Vietnamese jungle underfoot merely to carry a gigantic Statue of Liberty – is wasted by a story that stays in the mud rather than soars. The only turn on is fairly shallow. The only psychedelics are in the well-worn photo-effects. And the meticulous costumes fail to re-create an era that was more liberal than today.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2008
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A look at the Flower Power era in America through the eyes of an outsider.
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Tony Sullivan ***

Director: Julie Taymor

Writer: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Julie Taymor (story)

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther, TV Carpio, Spencer Liff, Lisa Hogg, Nicholas Lumley, Michael Ryan, Angela Mounsey

Year: 2007

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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